Eighty-five percent of the federal workforce operates outside the Washington area, the memo says, and agencies are teleworking to various degrees during the pandemic. The Defense Department, for example, said last week that there would be “some permanency” to its newly enhanced telework capabilities. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced new policies in late March after it was criticized for initially banning telework, ProPublica reported.
The new guidelines are intended to allow agencies to “begin adjusting their operation status for a controllable, steady return to normal operations,” the memo reads. It adds that agency heads should use state and regional assessments as a “starting point for decisions related to federal agency operations” but must also consider other factors, such as school and day-care closures, mass-transit availability, parking, and the health of their employees.
The memo also says agency heads should continue to use “appropriate telework protocols,” but as conditions change, they should revisit telework policies “to continue progressing to normal operations.”
It says federal agencies should expand telework flexibilities to all eligible workers categorized as “higher risk for serious complications from covid-19,″ the disease caused by the coronavirus, and other special populations, such as pregnant women, regardless of population.
The memo says agencies may consider new work arrangements that promote social distancing, such as alternating employee schedules between in-office work and telework. The memo also says agencies “must prioritize” capacity-building for public-facing federal services, like national parks, post offices and Social Security benefits offices.
New policies must also “restrict individuals infected with or at higher risk for serious illness from covid-19 from accessing federal facilities,” it says. Screening options could include temperature checks, a set of questions to ask people upon entry or even visual checks, the memo says. It adds that agencies may ask their employees to take their temperatures at home or provide workers with personal protective equipment.
Though the guidance mostly aligns with Trump’s recommendations to reopen individual states, some states, like Georgia, have announced plans to open up despite not hitting the White House benchmarks.
“Federal employees are dedicated to serving the public,” the memo notes. “The role of a public servant requires a unique responsibility to lead in times of crisis and during a period of recovery.”